Is Dungy Too Loyal?
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Tony Dungy was a great coach and beloved mentor during his coaching career, who dedicated himself to helping young men find their way in the world. If anyone can get Michael Vick's life back on track, it's Dungy.
Having an advocate and mentor of Dungy's stature and reputation is a great asset to Vick, but Dungy's post-football mission and his personality leave some questions as to how accurate his public comments on Vick are. Is the former Colts coach saying good things about Vick because he believes them, because he believes saying them will help Vick reform, or because he's too loyal to the man he's mentoring to talk bad about him?
Following his retirement, Dungy wanted to reach out and help struggling young men, devoting more time to the prison ministries he had taken part in while coaching. Vick certainly fits the bill for a troubled young man who Dungy would be interested in and suited to help. That Dungy agreed to mentor Vick doesn't say much about how far Vick had progressed, only that Dungy saw him as in need of help.
Dungy has stuck behind Vick through the return process so far, but that may not mean Vick is progressing as a person. Dungy is loyal, possibly to a fault. Immediately following Dungy's retirement, two longtime assistants, Ron Meeks and Russ Purnell were shown the door. Purnell had overseen years of terrible Colts special teams play, but been retained under Dungy. When special teams coverage improved in 2008 rather than praising Purnell, the players revealed that special teams ace Darrell Reid had called and led extra special teams meetings, along with several other veterans. The players seem to have left out Meeks in the cold as well, heaping more public praise on new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer in a couple months than Meeks got in his 7 years with the Colts.
Though the timing is suggestive, it can't yet be known whether Dungy's loyalty was protecting sub-par coaches. A clearer cut example of Dungy's fierce loyalty, with its benefits and its flaws, is the story of two linebackers stepping into a starting job for the first time, one in 2006, another in 2008. When the season opened, both were awful, clueless positioning, terrible angles, embarrassing tackling. Dungy stuck with them. One turned it around mid-season to become the bright spot in a LB corps that lost its leader late in the season. Clint Session will start this season at weakside linebacker. The other linebacker remained a disaster through 14 weeks, until Dungy finally pulled the plug on Gilbert Gardner in the wake of 375 rushing yards allowed in a single game against the Jaguars.
Dungy will stand by Vick until he can stand on his own, or commits the personal conduct equivalent of allowing 375 rushing yards in a game. He's the right mentor to help Vick, but not the best person to ask what Vick is really doing or what is actually going on his is head. Take his praise for Vick with a grain of salt.
August 11, 2009; 7:09 AM ET
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